Kim Davis versus same-sex marriage

I have been following with interest the events in Rowan County, Kentucky.  Since the Supreme Court handed down their decision in Obergefell v. Hodges on June 26th legalizing same-sex marriage, Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis has refused to issue marriage licenses.  Davis has cited her sincerely held religious beliefs as an Apostolic Christian, specifically her opposition to homosexuality, as the reason why she should be exempted from issuing marriage licenses to same sex couples.

Represented by the ultra-conservative Liberty Counsel, Davis took her case all the way to the Supreme Court.  On August 31st they declined to stay the United States District Court’s ruling that Davis must issue marriage licenses to all applicants.  In response, Davis continued to refuse to issue licenses, arguing that she was acting “under God’s authority.”  In a statement earlier this week Davis declared:

“To issue a marriage license which conflicts with God’s definition of marriage, with my name affixed to the certificate, would violate my conscience.  It is not a light issue for me. It is a Heaven or Hell decision.”

Finally, on September 3rd Davis was jailed by Federal District Judge David L. Bunning for contempt of court.  Bunning ordered Davis’ deputy clerks to begin issuing marriage licenses, which they did the following day.

I have no doubt that Davis’ beliefs are deeply and passionately felt.  Nevertheless, for several reasons, her actions are wrong.

First of all, there is a question of hypocrisy on Davis’ part.  She has been married four times to three different men.  As reported by U.S. News and World Report:

“She gave birth to twins five months after divorcing her first husband. They were fathered by her third husband but adopted by her second. Davis worked at the clerk’s office at the time of each divorce and has since remarried.”

I am not a Christian.  Nevertheless I know how to use Google.  After conducting a quick search I came across this passage:

“But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, causes her to become an adulteress, and anyone who marries the divorced woman commits adultery.” – Matthew 5:32

Davis’ attorney argued that whatever her past sins, when she converted to Apostolic Christianity four years ago it wiped the slate clean, and she has been a God-fearing, righteous woman since then.  That’s more than a bit convenient!  But let’s go with that.  Even if that was the case, are we to believe that Davis didn’t issue any marriage licenses to divorced people since she found God?  If she now values the sanctity of matrimony so much, shouldn’t she be denying not just gay people licenses but also people who were previously married?

Kim Davis bigotry cartoon

Second, the argument that she should not have to perform the duties of her job because they violate her ethical and moral beliefs is nonsensical.  Most people will be able to tell you about occasions when their jobs required them to perform tasks that they found onerous.

Speaking from personal experience, I worked at a health insurance company for seven years. On several occasions that company canceled group short term disability policies held by businesses because they had too many claims. I was told to inform those businesses that A) their policy was canceled and B) they still had to send us their past due premiums.  I thought it was wrong to cancel policies like that.  But I did what my bosses told me to because I had bills to pay and I did not want to get fired.  I did not say to them “I refuse to perform my job because what you are asking me to do is against my personal moral beliefs, but I expect you to still keep me on as an employee.”  If I had really felt that strongly then I should have just resigned.

And that is what Davis should have done. If you believe that you cannot perform your job without violating your “sincerely held religious beliefs” then quit and find a new job that will not present that conflict.

Just imagine if a situation similar to this occurred with, say, an ultra-conservative Muslim man who worked for the Department of Motor Vehicles.  Suppose that Muslim refused to issue drivers licenses to women due to his religious beliefs.  I fully expect that the same ultra right-wing conservatives who are championing Davis’ cause would be utterly aghast at this.  They would be screaming in horror about “Sharia law” and predicting the downfall of America.  But because Davis is a white Christian woman she is a “martyr” whose religious liberty is being trampled, or some such nonsense.

As for why Davis doesn’t just quit and find a new job, per the Lexington Herald-Leader, there is this:

“County clerk jobs are worth quite a bit. Davis earns about $80,000 a year in a county where per capita income is about $15,600 and median household income just under $30,000, according to recent numbers from the U.S. Census.”

Davis wants to have her cake and eat it too.  She wants to follow the dictates of her faith and keep her well-paying position.  In this matter another Bible verse immediately comes to mind:

“No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other; you will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” – Matthew 6:24

Third, Davis and her lawyers argued that gay couples simply travel to the next county and obtain marriage licenses there.  To which I would respond, why should same sex couples be subjected to an inconvenience that heterosexual couples do not have to deal with?  And let us say that these couples did travel to the next county to obtain licenses.  What happens if they get there and that county’s clerk, due to his or her “sincerely held religious beliefs”, also decides not to issue them licenses?  How far do these couples have to travel before it becomes utterly unreasonable?  Fifty miles?  One hundred miles?  Five hundred miles?  How much is too much?

In any case, the whole “go to the next county” argument is more than a bit reminiscent of segregation.  It is like a black person being told “No, you cannot use this water fountain, it is for whites only, but there’s another water fountain out back that you’re allowed to use.”  Simply put, that is humiliating.  It is an affront to basic human dignity.

sanctity of marriage

Fourth, and most important, the United States is not a theocracy.  We have a very clear separation of church and state.

On September 3 the Anti-Defamation League issued the following statement:

“Many of us make important decisions in our daily lives grounded in our religious values and beliefs. That should be respected, even per­haps, applauded. However when one chooses to take an oath of office or accepts a position as a public official in a secular constitutional democracy like ours, she has a responsibility to do the job she was hired to do. Rowan County Kentucky Clerk Kim Davis’s job requires her to issue marriage licenses to anyone who may legally get married.

Likewise, Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear stated that upon being elected Davis swore an oath of office to perform her duties.  Therefore:

“Neither your oath nor the Supreme Court dictates what you must believe. But as elected officials, they do prescribe how we must act.”

Davis’ religious freedoms are not being suppressed or discriminated against.  She still has the right to go to church and worship God in the manner she wishes.  She is not being asked to change her mind about gay marriage.  When she is not at work she is free to get on a soapbox and preach to the world about the supposed evils of homosexuality, or to spend all her free time campaigning for the passage of a Constitutional amendment outlawing same sex marriages.

But when Davis is in the County Clerk’s office, acting in an official capacity as an agent of the state, she must perform the duties of her job.  Either that or she must resign.

Yes, some laws are bad and should be fought.  But there are proper methods to challenge unjust statues, by court actions, peaceful protest and civil disobedience.  A person cannot simply argue “This law is wrong, I refuse to follow it, and I am going to perform my job the way I personally believe it should be done. Now go away and leave me alone.”

If Davis is accommodated in this case it would set a dangerous precedent.  Imagine if any government employee could refuse to follow orders or perform their duties due to ethical or religious concerns?  The result would be complete chaos.

Perhaps you may be wondering why I, as a heterosexual male, feel so passionately about this.  Why am I happy about the Supreme Court’s decision in June?  Why am I so alarmed by the actions of Kim Davis and others like her?

Well, in addition to actually possessing empathy for other human beings and feeling distress at seeing others denied equality, there is also my personal background.  I was born & raised Jewish. Growing up I learned all about the immense suffering and discrimination that Jews experienced over the centuries in countries that had an official state religion.  I am a very firm believer in the separation of church and state.

So when I see the rational for denying gay couples the right to marry as “God defined marriage as between a man and a woman” or “the Bible says homosexuality is a sin,” no, I am not going to stand for it.  Keep your religion out of my government.

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The Supreme Court rules in favor of same-sex marriage

“Every new and successful example, therefore, of a perfect separation between the ecclesiastical and civil matters, is of importance; and I have no doubt that every new example will succeed, as every past one has done, in showing that religion and Government will both exist in greater purity the less they are mixed together.” – James Madison (1789)

The United States Supreme Court issued two major decisions this week.  The first of these once again upheld the Affordable Care Act aka Obamacare.  I previously wrote about the ACA three years ago and my feelings remain pretty much the same.  So feel free to go to that blog post for my opinions concerning that issue.

The other decision arrived at by the Supreme Court, via a 5 to 4 vote, was to legalize same-sex marriage in all 50 states.  The four liberal and four conservative justices all voted as expected, with the deciding vote cast by Justice Anthony Kennedy.

In cases such as these, where the Court has been split down ideological lines, Kennedy has often (but not always) been the deciding vote.  Kennedy is something of a moderate Conservative, so it sometimes can be difficult to predict which way his swing vote will go.  There was a great deal of speculation as to whether, in voting in this case, Kennedy would maintain his long-held belief in the importance of gay rights, or if he would decide that this was an issue left up to the individual states.

In the end, Kennedy decided in favor of same-sex marriage, and he wrote the majority opinion.

Carlos McKnight of Washington waves a flag in support of same-sex marriage outside the U.S. Supreme Court on Friday, June 26. (Photo courtesy of CNN.com)

Carlos McKnight of Washington waves a flag in support of same-sex marriage outside the U.S. Supreme Court on Friday, June 26. (Photo courtesy of CNN.com)

With the 2016 race for the Presidency already under way (and, oh man, the election is over a year away and I’m already getting burned out by all of this nonsense) I fully expect that this is going to become yet another major issue.  I’m sure that most of the Republican candidates (how many are we up to at this point?) are already using the Court’s ruling on gay marriage to forecast gloom & doom, fire & brimstone retribution from the Almighty, and the imminent collapse of civilization as we know it.

You know what?  To hell with them and their hate-mongering.

Honestly, why does it matter if gay people marry?  To anyone who genuinely believes that homosexuality is a sin, I ask you this: how exactly does it affect your life if two total strangers who happen to be gay choose to get married?  If you disapprove, well, fine.  You are entitled to your personal opinions.  There are plenty of things in this world that I believe are immoral.  But I do not go around legislating my beliefs.

If two people, two consenting adults, love one another, then why should they not be able to get married?  How is it anyone else’s business?

In the majority opinion, Justice Kennedy states:

“The right to marry is fundamental as a matter of history and tradition, but rights come not from ancient sources alone. They rise, too, from a better informed understanding of how constitutional imperatives define a liberty that remains urgent in our own era. Many who deem same-sex marriage to be wrong reach that conclusion based on decent and honorable religious or philosophical premises, and neither they nor their beliefs are disparaged here. But when that sincere, personal opposition becomes enacted law and public policy, the necessary consequence is to put the imprimatur of the State itself on an exclusion that soon demeans or stigmatizes those whose own liberty is then denied. Under the Constitution, same-sex couples seek in marriage the same legal treatment as opposite-sex couples, and it would disparage their choices and diminish their personhood to deny them this right.”

Despite what some will claim, marriage is a civil institution, not a religious one.  If you want to be married legally, it must be officiated by a justice of the peace or some other agent of the state.  The Court’s ruling is not going to suddenly force priests and rabbis to conduct gay marriages in their churches and synagogues.  I expect that most gay couples are just going to head down to City Hall and tie the knot there.  So, no, this is not going to impose upon your religious rights.

Honestly, this is a country that is supposed to have separation of church and state.  All the attempts to make gay marriage illegal purely on the basis of faith are a prime example of why religion and politics should not become intertwined.

Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy

Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy

I find it ironic that the Republican Party of the 21st Century, the so-called “party of small government,” is so often expanding government intrusion into people’s personal lives, deciding who can and cannot marry, passing judgment on sexual behavior, interfering in the decisions that should be made between a patient and a doctor, and so on.  It seems to me that their idea of “small government” is allowing Big Business to operate in the most reckless manner with absolutely no oversight or restraint, while at the same time prying into the private affairs of citizens in order to appease the Religious Right whose votes they so desperately court.

Besides, I am sick of watching bigots cherry-pick Bible verses to justify their intolerance, forcing their narrow-minded views on the whole of society.  This is why I wholeheartedly believe that faith should be a personal matter.

There are so many problems facing the United States: massive income inequality, unemployment, racism, sexism, inadequate access to medical care, pollution, climate change, terrorism and global political instability.  Those are the issues we need to be worried about, not gay marriage.

I have met gay couples who have been together for many years, who have healthy & stable relationships.  And I have met heterosexual couples who simply have no business being married, who have gotten to the point where they hate each other’s guts, and a divorce is probably the only things that is going to keep them from killing one another.  Heterosexuality is absolutely no guarantee that a marriage will work.

My congratulations to the LGBT community on their victory today.  I hope that there be further progress made in obtaining equal protection under the law in the near future.

Donald Sterling: It’s All About The Money

“Everything good that is not based on a morally good disposition, however, is nothing but pretense and glittering misery.” – Immanuel Kant

Time for one of my rare political posts.  I do not do these too often, because I usually want to make sure that I actually have something intelligent to say, and that I’m not going to make a fool of myself.  Would that others were capable of such self-restraint!

I really don’t follow sports, so until a few days ago I had never heard of Donald Sterling, the billionaire owner of the LA Clippers basketball team.  However, Sterling made the headlines in a big way when taped voice messages for his mistress, a part-Hispanic, part-black woman who apparently goes by several names, including V. Stiviano, were leaked to the press.  The 80 year old Sterling was caught on tape criticizing the 31 year old Stiviano for posting photos of herself with African American basketball legend Magic Johnson on Instagram.  According to CNN, Sterling told Stiviano “In your lousy f**ing Instagrams, you don’t have to have yourself with — walking with black people.”  He went on to add “I’ve known (Magic Johnson) well, and he should be admired. … I’m just saying that it’s too bad you can’t admire him privately. Admire him, bring him here, feed him, f**k him, but don’t put (Magic) on an Instagram for the world to have to see so they have to call me. And don’t bring him to my games.”

Well, the shit immediately hit the fan, and Sterling has been up to his neck in a public relations nightmare for the last several days.  The mostly-black line-up of the Clippers showed up on the court with their warm-up gear inside out.  Over a dozen corporate sponsors made the decision to pull their support for the Clippers.  It all culminated in NBA commissioner Adam Silver banning Sterling for life, fining him $2.5 million, and urging the Board of Governors to force Sterling to sell the Clippers.

Following Silver’s announcement, former NBA player and current Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson publicly praised the decision.  He announced that “it delivered a statement about where we are as a county.”

Oh, yes, it delivered a statement, all right.  It declared, loud and clear, that the god of the American people is the almighty dollar.

Donald Sterling cartoon by Chip Bok

Let’s take a look at Donald Sterling’s long, sordid history.  He is a serial philanderer who was most recently carrying on a relationship with a woman young enough to be his granddaughter, apparently showering her with $2 million in gifts, all the while undoubtedly bringing embarrassment to his wife & children.  Sterling was unsuccessfully sued in 2009 by former Clippers general manager Elgin Baylor for age & racial bias.  In that same year, Sterling paid $2.725 million to settle a housing bias suit brought against him by the Justice Department, which alleged that he systematically drove blacks, Hispanics and families with children out of apartment buildings he owned.

All of this is in Sterling’s past.  But none of it previously seemed to bother the NBA, the players on the Clippers, or the team’s corporate sponsors terribly much.  Hell, even the Los Angeles chapter of the NAACP gave Sterling a lifetime achievement award after his contribution of $45,000 to their coffers.

However, once Sterling was caught on tape making racist remarks, causing a huge PR debacle, seething anger among the Clippers line-up, and sponsors to start fleeing from him like he’s come down with a case of the bubonic plague… then, and only then, does the NBA decide that Sterling is a reprehensible human being.  Yes, it took the looming threat of a gigantic loss of revenue to finally cause the NBA to cut Sterling loose.  Oh, yeah, and the NAACP is now keeping their distance.

This entire situation reminds me of what happened back in February in Arizona.  The state legislature had passed the controversial SB 1062, which would have allowed businesses in Arizona to deny service to gay & lesbian customers if that decision was “substantially motivated by a religious belief.”

Arizona Governor Jan Brewer was a week away from deciding whether to sign or veto SB 1062 when all hell broke loose.  Companies such as American Airlines, AT&T and Marriot voiced concerns over the bill.  Apple, which was in the middle of building a plant in Mesa that was expected to create hundreds of new jobs, urged Brewer to veto SB 1062.  The state Chamber of Commerce, the Greater Phoenix Economic Council and a number of local businesses all came out in opposition to it.  Even three of the state legislators who had originally voted yes for SB 1062 were suddenly back-peddling furiously, urging Brewer to exercise her veto power.  The general dawning realization among many seemed to be “Wait a second, if this thing goes into effect, we could lose a shit load of money!”

In the end, Brewer did veto SB 1062.  But while it was the right decision, it was quite clearly done for the wrong reasons.  Instead of making her choice for reasons of social justice, Brewer’s motivation was financial.

It is a terrible tragedy when freedom and liberty are at the whims of economics, that the defense of civil rights is predicated on whether or not it is financially judicious.  Sadly, though, that has often been the case.  One of the most powerful tools of the African American Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s was the economic boycott.  Now more than ever, though, it seems that significant social progress is unlikely without a monetary incentive behind it.

As the old saying goes, money talks and bullshit walks.

Homophobic chicken

The recent controversy surrounding fast food chain Chick-fil-A has raised some interesting First Amendment issues.  Chick-fil-A President and Chief Operating Officer Dan Cathy is a devout Southern Baptist.  The company has espoused many positions that fall within a strict, traditional interpretation of the Bible.  These include very strong opposition to homosexuality and same sex marriages.  This stance has made headlines within the last couple of months.  In regards to the issue, Cathy announced “We are very much supportive of the family — the biblical definition of the family unit.  We are a family-owned business, a family-led business, and we are married to our first wives. We give God thanks for that.”

In response, a number of politicians have come out in opposition to Chick-fil-A.  Among them was Boston Mayor Thomas Menino, who declared “Chick-fil-A doesn’t belong in Boston. You can’t have a business in the city of Boston that discriminates against a population.”  Also weighing in was Chicago’s Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who stated “Chick-fil-A values are not Chicago values. They disrespect our fellow neighbors and residents.”  Both Menino and Emanuel strongly urged Chick-fil-A to back out of their plans to open restaurants in their cities, and even contemplated utilizing zoning regulations to block the company.

This controversy has also arisen here in New York City.  Council speaker Christine Quinn, a strong advocate of gay rights, started an online petition to ban Chick-fil-A in the Five Boroughs.  On the other hand, Mayor Mike Bloomberg took an opposing stance, saying that “You really don’t want to ask political beliefs or religious beliefs before you issue a permit.”

Looking at all this, my first reaction was, admittedly, to jump on the bandwagon with those calling for a ban on Chick-fil-A.  I completely disagree with their opposition to same sex marriage, which they have backed up by donating millions of dollars to ultra-conservative political groups.  I think that they are a bunch of reactionary bigots, and I would be happy to see them shut down.

But, on second thought, giving it further consideration, I realized that would be completely against the spirit of free speech in this country, as guaranteed by the First Amendment of the Constitution.  I seem to recall an expression along the lines that the First Amendment doesn’t exist to protect the speech you agree with, but rather the speech you disagree with.  And Chic-fil-A’s stance on gay marriage would definitely be a case of that.  As disgusting as I find Dan Cathy and Chick-fil-A’s positions on homosexuality, they have a Constitutionally-guaranteed right to express those views without fear of government censorship.  I feel it would be morally wrong, as well as very un-Constitutional, for the government to block Chick-fil-A from setting up shop due to their views.

(Yeah, believe it or not, I’m actually in agreeing with that know-it-all windbag Bloomberg here.  Between this and his push for stronger gun control, that now makes two positions I actually see eye-to-eye with the Mayor on.  Well, as they say, even a broken clock is right twice a day.)

Besides, if Chick-fil-A was prevented from opening new stores by mayors or city councils that support gay rights, it would set a horrible precedent.  If that was allowed then, conversely, local politicians who were opposed to homosexuality could then ban businesses that practiced pro-gay policies.

So, yes, I say Chick-fil-A should be allowed to open in New York, Boston, and Chicago.  They must be allowed to exercise their First Amendment rights.  But, at the same time, I strongly encourage everyone who disagrees with Chick-fil-A to exercise their right to free speech.  Speak out against Dan Cathy’s bigotry, and boycott the hell out of that homophobic fast food chain.  That’s definitely what I intend to do.

What the Richard Grenell affair tells us about the GOP

Time to once again venture back into the murky, controversial world of politics.

I think that there are a lot of reasons for the current deplorable condition of American politics.  As I’ve mentioned before, one of the main reasons for this is the increased polarization of ideologies.  While there is plenty of blame to place at the feet of both parties, I personally feel that the lion’s share is due to the actions of the Republicans.  President Obama, despite declarations by his opponents that he is an ultra-liberal radical socialist, is actually pretty much in the middle of the road.  He has shown on numerous occasions that he is open to compromise.  It is really the Republican leadership and their key supporters who keep drifting to the far right of the ideological spectrum.  This is especially evident in the events of the last few weeks that have taken place within Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign.

In his quest to become the next President, Romney has attempted to promote himself as a moderate, while at the same time courting the support of the conservative elements of the Republican Party.  In other words, he is trying to play both sides of the fence.  But, as can be seen in the case of Richard Grenell, this is an untenable position.

Who is Richard Grenell?  He is a Republican, a political strategist, a former spokesman to the United Nations during George W. Bush’s presidency.  He was hired to be the foreign policy & national security spokesman for the Romney campaign.

Oh, yes, did I mention that Richard Grenell is also openly gay, and that he has spoken out in support of same sex marriage?

The day after Grenell’s appointment, Bryan Fischer of the ultra-conservative American Family Association was quoted on Twitter as saying “Romney picks out & loud gay as a spokesman. If personnel is policy, his message to the pro-family community: drop dead.”  Numerous other harsh criticisms from other figures in the Republican Party and the Religious Right followed on from this.

Despite all of Grenell’s knowledge & years of experience, and his endorsement by other former members of the Bush administration, the fact that he is homosexual and he believes in gay marriage is the defining characteristic of the man in the eyes of a significant portion of the Republican Party.  That Romney would appoint Grenell to his campaign was proof to them that their Presidential nominee was nowhere near “conservative” enough.

In reaction to this firestorm, Grenell was reportedly marginalized by the Romney campaign, shuffled off to the side, his expertise not called upon.  After only three weeks, an understandable frustrated Grenell resigned.  Romney’s camp claimed that they attempted to dissuade Grenell from departing, but the fact that they offered such a tepid defense of him in the proceeding weeks rather undermines their supposed loyalty.

The Grenell affair vividly illustrates just how extremist and myopic elements of the Republican Party have become.  This type of inflexible ideological stance has pervaded so many aspects of their platform.  They are no longer willing to compromise on most major issues.  They publicly embrace intolerance.  In this atmosphere, any sort of effective governing is going to be a near-impossible task.

I am not saying that all Republicans are like this.  Unfortunately, those aforementioned ultra-conservative elements are the most influential and vocal, continually dragging the entire Party further and further to the right.  The result is a political climate where the leaders and policymakers of half the government are almost completely out of touch with the moderate, mainstream beliefs held by most Americans.